Two minors, both special needs children, may not be back this semester in Easton, Pennsylvania, due to their lack of residency. I have been homeless myself at times and know that it can strike many families suddenly through loss of a job, medical bills, or a sudden catastrophe.
According to the complaint, a family was recently put in this position due to the loss of a job, only to be told by the administration (while living in their camper) that the children were still part of the student body and deserved protection under the McKinny-Vento Homeless Assistance act. This situation changed quickly. According to the case’s documentation, in October 2013, the family was informed that the children would be dis-enrolled during the course of the school year. On December 9, 2013, the children were formally expelled.
The validity of the act is under scrutiny as part of the case. Since the students in question enrolled for only a short portion of time before exiting, it is likely that the school board will argue that the act is not valid. Fortunately, the law is fairly black-and-white on the issue with the act of enrollment in September being the key point of debate.
I live in the Easton, PA area, and as a parent I can understand the difficulty of dealing with homelessness and children as well as the pain a child feels when losing the stability that comes from school. In my opinion, the lack of engagement on the part of the school that is a serious mistake.
A problem with a student’s family at this level demands a stronger positive reaction from the school. The Easton Area School District’s code of conduct outlines policies against bullying, gang activity, hazing, and terrorism, saying that “The Board recognizes the importance of providing a safe learning and working environment for students, employees and visiting community members”.
Don’t homeless kids deserve to feel safe? Schools are used as shelters regularly during disaster relief efforts, when a student loses housing they should be a source of temporary housing on a nightly basis during the course of the child’s school year. Since homelessness is often a temporary condition it is not onerous on the part of the school to set up a few cots in the gym after school or to allow a family to park their camper on the premises.
We should not allow homelessness to be a source of shame. It’s not a lack of luck that should be shameful but rather a lack of trying – and parents with schoolchildren are always trying and should be given the benefit of the doubt.